Glossary

Climate debt

The idea that developed countries should pay reparations to developing countries, as well as accepting non-financial obligations for their disproportionate responsibility in causing the climate crisis. Climate debt takes two main forms: ‘adaptation debt’ and ‘emissions debt’.

 ‘Adaptation debt’ refers to the fact that developing countries will suffer three-quarters of the damage caused by climate change.

‘Emissions debt’ refers to the fact that developed countries have produced around two thirds of the greenhouse gases causing climate change, taking up a disproportionate share of ‘atmospheric space’.

Approaching climate finance as reparations for climate debt distinguishes it from aid (‘development assistance’), private charity or the creation of new trade and investment opportunities for transnational companies.

Climate debt is as much a moral concept as an economic one, which is why it is central to conceptions of climate justice. From the moral standpoint, financial transfers should be part of a package of obligations, alongside developed countries drastically reducing their emissions and helping developing countries to adopt green technology (for example, by rolling back or pooling patents).

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